Tag Archive for ‘Setup’

Tech Travel Kit

This past week, I traveled to New Orleans for a work meetup with my Happiness Engineer team. It was an incredible experience with a lot learning, amazing food, and games. I learned that Overcooked is an excellent game and there are actually legitimately good team building-type exercises.

This was my first time traveling for work and thought it might be useful to share the tech-related items that I brought with me during the trip. Not just because I’m obsessed with this sort of stuff, but because I’ve learned a bit about what I actually need and more importantly, what I don’t, when traveling.

I kept the majority of my tech items inside my carry-on, which was a Tom Bihn Pilot. It might be the best bag I’ve ever owned and it was roomy enough to hold all my gear while still remaining fairly compact. It has a vertically oriented water bottle/umbrella pocket with a metal grommet at the bottom, which will let water leak out instead of soaking your bag. I also made good use of all the o-rings inside of the Pilot to attach keystraps and various Tom Bihn pouches to organize my kit.

Here’s the full list of gear that I kept in the Pilot:

  • MacBook Air (2018): it’s a fantastic machine with a severely flawed keyboard. I still run into issues with duplicate or missed key presses, but hopefully I’ll have a chance to get the keyboard replaced with the latest iteration soon. I love every other aspect of this machine, though, and am glad I chose it instead of one of the Pro models.
  • iPad Air 2: It’s over four years old for me, but is still my primary machine for non-work tasks. Writing, browsing the web, watching video, and reading are at their best on the iPad. At least for me. Armed with my essential Shortcuts, I can do just about everything I need to do.
  • Nintendo Switch: This is an item that I don’t expect I would bring next time I travel. Two or three of my teammates also brought their Switches and I never ended up taking mine out of its case.
  • USB-C Charging Cable: I just use the standard USB-C cable that came with the MacBook Air, nothing special. I do have a fancier Anker cable, but It’s about six inches shorter than the Apple cable. I probably would take the Anker in the future because it’s a bit thinner and easier to wrap up and store. In practice, the length difference wouldn’t have mattered.
  • USB-C to Lightning Cable: I have this one from Anker, mostly because I’m a big fan of their other Lightning cables. It’s nice and durable and is great for charging my AirPods or iPhone while I’m working from my Air.
  • Magic Mouse 2: I might eventually replace this with a more ergonomical alternative. But until I find one that I like, it’s a nice, portable option that gets the job done.
  • Anker PowerPort Atom PD 1: The existence of these ultra-compact, relatively high power output chargers is one of the major reasons why I went with the Air. This charger can power my device without a hiccup and is much smaller and lighter than the default charger.
  • Sandisk USB-C Thumb Drive: This serves as my portable Time Machine Backup that I leave in my suitcase while I’m out and about with my laptop. This way, if anything happens to my Air, I can get back up and running quickly after acquiring a replacement.
  • Tile Mate: If I ever get separated from my bag, I can use the Tile app to trigger the unit’s audio tone to help me find it or make use of the map feature and rely on other Tile users to track it down. I started using these last year and don’t plan on looking back — every bag I own needs a Tile.
  • AirPods 2: The best headphones available. You might notice the omission of “wireless” in that last sentence and I can assure you, it was intentional. The battery life is great, they’re more pocketable than just about anything else on the market, and can switch devices is a snap.
  • Lighting Cable: A standard USB-A Lightning cable from Anker that serves as my primary charging cable for iPhone, iPad, and AirPods. It’s sturdy and does the job well.
  • Watch Charging Cable: I typically don’t travel with my Apple Watch, but thought I was going to do enough walking during the trip that it would be worth the extra gear in my bag. I ended up appreciating it much more than I initially expected. The ability to receive notifications on my wrist so I can keep in touch with my wife and having a timer that I could use without disturbing those around me were quite handy.
  • Anker PowerPort Mini: My go-to bedside charger, which typically powered my iPhone and Apple Watch. Every couple of days I’d use it to top-off my AirPods and iPad while I was working in the hotel or getting ready to head out in the morning. It’s the most compact two-port charger I’ve seen and the primary reason I haven’t dove head-first in to USB-C yet.

I also ended up with a small collection of tech kit in my checked bag. It was all the items that I didn’t expect I’d need or want on my travel days and consisted of the following:

  • Tile Mate: Again, there isn’t a bag I own that doesn’t have a Tile inside of it now. Having one in my checked bag was especially neat, I could often launch the Tile app and see that the unit was connected from inside the plane, which confirmed that my bag made it on the flight.
  • Lightning Cable: An additional Lightning cable that I could use for charging my devices. I never ended up using this item, so I might leave it at home the next time around.
  • Twelve South Compass 2: This is my go-to stand for the iPad, but something I never touched during my travels. I think I’ll keep it in my kit, though, because I did find myself using my MacBook and iPad simultaneously a few times. In hindsight, I should have grabbed the Compass, which would have made these situations a bit more comfortable.
  • Lightning to HDMI Dongle: Another item that never left my bag. I brought this in case I had some time to watch YouTube or Hulu before falling asleep, but I never had time. At night, I threw in my AirPods and listened to a podcast while I was getting ready for bed. That was the extent of my hotel room entertainment.
  • Apple Watch Woven Nylon Band: I like to switch out bands frequently and wanted to give myself the option to do so during my travels. I would definitely bring one again because I switched twice throughout the week of the meetup.
  • Switch Accessories: My portable dock (using this shell), power adapter, and Joy Con Straps never saw the light of day — I just didn’t end up using my Switch at all.
  • HDMI Cable: This served as a way to connect my Switch and my iPad or iPhone to the TV through the HDMI to Lightning adapter. I plan to leave this off my packing list next time as well.

As an aside, I used an Away suitcase as my checked bag for the meetup. I bought the medium sized model in asphalt. It’s a joy to use with all sorts of nice little features, but the built-in lock ended up breaking during my travels. The slider mechanism will release the zippers regardless of what combination you enter — that’s not exactly ideal.

I don’t want to give the bag up, though, and wouldn’t mind adding another to our luggage collection for when my wife and I go on trips together. I plan on contacting Away within the next couple of days to see if they can offer a replacement or if there is some trick that I’m unaware of to get it working as expected again.

One last thing to note, Automattic will have me traveling at least a couple of times each year. So if you’re as fascinated by gear as I am, you can expect I’ll be publishing articles like this again the future.

Home Screens Project

I’ve been on the lookout for a good way to share my iOS home screens and Apple Watch faces. I tried using Homescreen.me for a while and it came close to satisfying my needs, but the service still doesn’t have support for sharing iPad home screens. Rather than continuing to wait for someone to build the service that I want, I’ve decided to publish my home screens and Watch faces here on Initial Charge.

January 2018

iPad Home Screen

iPad Dock:

iPhone Home Screen

I used my site-specific Workflow method to setup the custom Instagram launcher — it opens the native app on iPhone and the website on iPad.

I’m using the Linen texture wallpaper on my iPhone and iPad that I wrote about back in August.

Apple Watch Faces


My Dream Setup, Revised

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about my dream setup. It’s a discussion that commonly occurs in tech circles and is often accompanied by the debate between a laptop as your only machine or a desktop as a primary machine alongside a thin and light notebook. Things have become a little bit more complicated, though. With the increased power and versatility of iOS devices and the inconsistent upgrade cycle of the Mac, a dream setup has never been more difficult for me to devise.

My idea of a dream setup has been in flux ever since Apple released the new MacBook Pro. If you were to ask me what Mac I would buy a couple weeks ago, I would have gone with the MacBook. But it wouldn’t be an easy decision.

With the purchase of a MacBook, it would have taken the responsibility as my primary machine — housing my iTunes and photo libraries, but I would have continued running Plex on the Mac mini. It would be a great setup — and fits in with the desktop machine plus thin and light notebook ideology — but I’m not too keen on managing two Macs anymore and I need the always-on Mac mini for media hosting.

My revised dream setup is more simple and would require less overhead to manage. A single Mac that serves all my macOS needs alongside an iPad that fills the role of the thin and light computer.

My current dream setup:

  • 21.5-inch, 4K iMac
  • Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad
  • Magic Mouse 2
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • iPhone 7

My dream setup started to solidify after I installed Snow Leopard on my old iMac and spent a few days using the machine. I was amazed at how nice it was to use a desktop Mac. It had a much larger screen that sat at a reasonable distance, a spacious keyboard that felt great to type on, and a mouse — something I haven’t used with any of my personal computers in years. It felt comfortable.

I don’t spend too much time using a Mac these days — I’m almost exclusively on iOS — but when I do, I want it to be as comfortable as my old iMac was. And that’s why I’d go with Apple’s old-style, wired keyboard (with the numeric keypad) alongside the Magic Mouse 2. That’s the same keyboard that my iMac shipped with in 2008. And to this day, its my favorite keyboard of all time. Perhaps my opinion would be different if I spent any length of time with Apple’s older mechanical keyboards, but I came to the Mac during this keyboard’s era and I don’t expect to find something better anytime soon.

As for the iMac itself, I wouldn’t go too crazy with build-to-order options. I’d go with the base model, only upgrading the hard drive to a 512GB SSD. The rest of the iMac’s hardware is more than suitable for my needs — light photo editing, media hosting, and basic web development.

I’d use the internal SSD to store my applications, iTunes music, and photo library, but I’d also purchase an external drive and a TwelveSouth BackPack for Plex. That way I’d have all the benefits of solid state in my day-to-day, but enough storage for all of my video files.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro and iPhone 7 were the easy decisions in my dream setup. I love the iPad and use it for the vast majority of my computing, hence the desire for the higher-end, Pro model. I could see myself being interested in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but at the moment I value the portability of the smaller model so highly that it outweighs any of the benefits I’d get from the bigger screen.

And for many iPad owners, their device lives inside of a keyboard case. I don’t expect I’ll ever do that with mine. I prefer keeping my iPad bare and setting it on TwelveSouth’s Compass — the original model, specifically — alongside Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard when I plan on doing a lot of writing. I can certainly crank out a couple-thousand words on the software keyboard if I need to — and have countless times in the past — but it’s always much more comfortable to write with a hardware keyboard.

I’d also stick with the smaller, 4.7-inch iPhone. The extra screen real estate could come in handy, but I like being able to use my iPhone with one hand and that’s not feasible on the larger screen. I am envious of the dual-camera system from the Plus model. And not just because of portrait mode. Having access to 2x optical zoom is a huge deal. It opens up a world of possibilities, allowing you to take crisp photos at a distance that wouldn’t have been possible without it. I hope that this camera system makes its way into the smaller iPhone at some point, but again, it’s not worth the trade offs that come with the larger form factor. I’d rather have a slightly worse camera than have to deal with a giant iPhone.

This certainly isn’t the most extravagant dream setup. It’s reasonable and obtainable, which is how I’d prefer it to be. I could buy everything — the iMac, the iPhone, and the iPad — for just under $3,500. That may seem expensive at first glance, but I’m willing to bet this sits at the lower end of the pricing spectrum — at least when compared to other dream setups.

The Dream Setup

There’s a common discussion in tech circles that usually finds its way into my Twitter timeline a few times each year — “what’s your dream setup?” It’s asked by The Sweet Setup in their interview series and by Daniel Bogan on The Setup. I’ve even heard it discussed on a podcast or two throughout the years.

I completely understand why the dream setup is brought up so often — it’s normal to think about what you would buy if you had access to unlimited funds. But this isn’t a topic I typically chime in on. I think I put my thoughts best when I wrote about my own setup in fall 2010:

My dream setup isn’t too different from what I have now. A second monitor, an iPhone 4, and a new MacBook Pro would be nice. But to be honest, I can’t imagine my dream setup making me any more productive. And if I’m not any more productive then what’s the point?

I never really found much benefit in contemplating these hypotheticals. Not only was I unable to afford my dream setup at the time, but I didn’t think it would make much of a difference if I could. The software I use wouldn’t change and, because I spend most of my time living in text, the impact of improved performance would be minimal.

I do think about my dream setup occasionally, though, it’s hard not to. And I’ve realized something about mine — it has changed a lot in the past year. Two years ago, if you were to ask me what my dream setup was, it wouldn’t be all that different from the one I wanted in 2010.

The latest iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, and iMac with a second monitor has been my dream setup for as long those products have been available. But if you ask me today, you’ll get a much different answer:

  • iPhone 6s
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • Mac mini
  • 27-inch Apple Cinema Display
  • Magic Keyboard
  • Magic Trackpad 2

The most obvious difference between my previous dream setups and this one is the omission of a portable Mac. That’s because I’ve experienced a major transition over the past year — from OS X as my primary operating system to iOS for nearly everything.

I just don’t need a notebook computer anymore. It’s been weeks since I last used my MacBook Air and I haven’t missed it. The tasks that used to have me reaching for it are now all performed on my iPad.

The most common, previously Mac-only, task was manually updating the site’s WordPress installation. I’m well aware that WordPress offers an automated update system, but it’s been broken for years (at least for me). Every few months, without fail, I’d have to download the necessary files and upload them to my server with Transmit.

I had always done this on my MacBook until last week’s release of version 4.5 when I decided to see if I could get the job done from my iPad. After clicking the download link on WordPress’ website, iOS asked what application I’d like to open the file in. I chose Transmit, naturally, and was able to decompress the Zip file and begin uploading its contents. Within minutes I was updating the site’s database to complete the process. Everything worked without a hitch.

I’ve also recently completed another, previously Mac-only task when I published Push to Ulysses Workflow last week. Typically when I would publish an article which included images, I would eventually move to my MacBook to optimize — with ImageOptim — and upload the files. This time I produced the entire piece on iOS.

I used LongScreen to combine the two iPhone screenshots into a single image and ran the lot through Kraken.io to optimize file sizes. Then I uploaded them to my server from WordPress’ web interface and copy and pasted their URL into Ulysses before publishing.

That’s two more tasks that were previously Mac-only and can now be performed, from start to finish, on iOS. I wish my process for dealing with images was a bit more streamlined, but I suppose that will come in time. Luckily, I rarely publish images on Initial Charge, and when I do, there’s usually not more than two or three.

I haven’t gone entirely iOS-only, though. As you can see from my dream setup above, there’s still room in my life for a Mac. I currently have a Mac mini in my office closet that acts as our home media server, iOS backup target, and the location of our photo library. I also occasionally perform Mac-only tasks on the Mac mini. The only common one is downloading audio files from a couple of pay-walled podcasts and uploading them to Overcast.fm. This way I can listen to them on my favorite podcast client using Smart Speed to save a bit of time.

I don’t interact with the Mac mini directly, though — it operates headless and I use Screens for iOS to control it. There are instances where I use Screen Sharing on my MacBook instead, but that’s only when I plan on working with a ton of images in Apple Photos.

It’s becoming an extremely rare occurrence for me to use my MacBook, but given that my dream setup doesn’t include a portable Mac, I thought it was best to include a Cinema Display, keyboard, and trackpad. I don’t expect I’ll use it anymore than I currently use my MacBook, but I’d rather be safe than sorry in case I find myself in an unexpected situation in which some oddball task requires the use of a traditional computer.

It’s still astounding to me how my perceptions about high-end computing hardware have changed. I used to dream about owning thousands of dollars worth of Macs to perform the same tasks that I now do almost exclusively on a 9.7-inch slab of glass. And this relatively minuscule tablet features more hores power than nearly every computing device I’ve ever owned.

My need for traditional computers has declined significantly over the past year and I expect that trend will continue. I wouldn’t be surprised if I only ever buy one or two more Macs in my lifetime — eventually, I won’t need to use them as a crutch anymore. I’ll be able to live a more simple and minimalistic computing lifestyle where my dream setup is just an iPhone, an iPad, and maybe a Bluetooth keyboard.

The Setup

I’ve been planning a piece here about my current setup for months, and now that I’ve finally updated my About page I thought there was no better time to actually publish it than now. Another big influence for publishing this now is that I’ve now spent a few months with the iPad and it’s finally settled into my workflow.

Currently, most of what ends up getting published here is written on my 20-inch iMac. It was purchased in late 2008 and has a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor with 4GB of RAM. At the time of purchase it was the lowest-end iMac available but has served me well, especially after an upgrade to 4GB of RAM shortly after purchase. I have an Apple wireless keyboard and Magic Mouse connected to it right now but I’m expecting to receive Apple’s newly introduced Magic Trackpad this Christmas. I’m still not sure how well the trackpad will fit into my setup but I’m anxious to try it out.

The only other peripherals I have connected to my iMac are both from Elgato, a Turbo.264 HD and an Elgato EyeTV. The Turbo.264 HD is a beast when it comes to converting video and is the biggest reason I have no urge to upgrade my iMac at this time. I’m talking 5-10 minute conversions of 30 minute videos to an iPod friendly format. The EyeTV is a fantastic piece of hardware that integrates nicely with the Turbo.264 HD. All of the TV shows that I watch are recorded onto my iMac using the EyeTV and are then exported into iTunes so that I can watch it on any device I’d like to.

On the iMac I spend most of my time with Safari, iTunes, and Mail open. I switched from Firefox to Safari when 5.0 was released and haven’t looked back since. I’m still not used to the keyboard shortcuts for switching tabs but a great little extension called “ctrlSwitcher” has eased the pain a bit. Safari is significantly more stable than Firefox has ever been and I love that I don’t have to add bookmarks to two browser in order to keep my iOS devices and my default Mac web browser in sync.

I am a Quicksilver kind of guy, I haven’t spent the time to dig into all of the things Quicksilver can actually do — I usually use it as a launcher — but feel lost when I sit down to use a Mac that doesn’t have it installed.

Notational Velocity has become one of my favorite applications. Not only is it a dead-simple notes application, but it’s ability to sync with Simplenote has changed my life. I write all kinds of stuff in it, whether it’s a shopping list or I just need to jot down an idea, Notational Velocity is where I put it.

The other apps that keep me going include iCal, LittleSnapper, SuperDuper!, Time Machine, and Transmit.

My other Mac is a 1.83GHz Core Duo MacBook with 2GB of RAM. It was my first Mac, I’ve had it for nearly four years, and unfortunately the AirPort card just gave out on me a couple of months ago. I haven’t decided whether I want to spend the $200 or so to get it fixed, but even if I don’t, four years is about twice the lifespan of any PC I’ve ever owned.

I use a 500GB Time Capsule as my router and the only gadgets hard-wired to it are an HP Photosmart C4480 printer and a 320GB hard drive. Everything else on the network is connected using Wi-Fi. I have one of the newer dual-band Time Capsules so my 802.11n devices aren’t slowed down too much by the 802.11g devices on the network. I’ve read a lot of articles criticizing the Time Capsule but I’ve been very happy with it. I haven’t had any of the problems with the hard drive that others have and I don’t remember ever having to restart the thing for anything other than configuration changes.

I own an iPhone 3GS, an iPad, and a Kindle 2. These devices are what I use to do nearly all of my reading. I don’t read books but I always have something to read in Instapaper.

The majority of the time I use my Kindle is when I’m on trips. The devices’ fantastic battery life just can’t be beat. I’ve only purchased one book for my Kindle, “Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. Instead of reading books, I keep my Kindle full of content with a combination of Instapaper and Ephemera. Ephemera is a great little Mac application that keeps your Instapaper articles synced to your eBook reader. I have it setup to automatically launch and sync when my Kindle is connected to my computer and it automatically ejects when it finishes the sync. Ephemera is super simple and makes my Kindle infinitely more useful.

I currently own a 32GB iPhone 3GS, although that might be changing sooner than I’d like. The back of my 3GS has two small cracks near the dock connector and the headphone jack now refuses to recognize the controls on Apple’s fancy headphones. I’m not eligible for early upgrade pricing and had already decided to wait until the iPhone 5 came out before I purchase a new device. However, the cracks in the casing might force me to bite the bullet and buy an iPhone 4.

I don’t have a lot of applications installed on my iPhone (only three home screens worth and none of them are filled) but I do have a short list of favorites. Camera+ (with volume button shutter enabled), Twitter, Outside, Fever, Instapaper, Calcbot, Mint, and Simplenote are the only third-party apps on my first home screen.

Most of the free time I have with my iPhone is spent in Fever, Shaun Inman’s fantastic RSS reader, which I’ve saved to my home screen from Safari. Shaun clearly spent a lot of time optimizing Fever’s experience on the iPhone because it is fantastic. I know there are a lot of people that prefer to use Reeder for their RSS reading but I don’t think anything beats Fever’s experience. Fever is beautifully designed and its “Hot” section is a fantastic way to catch up on the important news when you’ve been away for a while.

The newcomer to my setup is a 64GB 3G iPad. I pre-ordered it on day one and received it as soon as it was available. It’s changed the way I’ve worked and I have no plans on looking back. At this point my iPad gets way more use than any of my Macs.

Like the iPhone, I don’t keep a lot of applications installed on my iPad at any given time. Ashes is generally the first application I launch when I pick up the iPad in the morning. Ashes is a Fever client that — although a little crashy from time to time — is the best way to read feeds on the iPad. I’ve been working on a review of Ashes for a few weeks but have decided to wait until an update addresses stability before I publish the review. The application is new and is interfacing with another application’s new API, I wouldn’t want to publish a review without giving it a fair chance.

I use Twitterrific for iPad because nothing better has come along and I use The Weather Channel Max to check the forecast.

I have iTeleport installed so I can remotely access my iMac wherever I am. There’s still a lot of tasks that aren’t possible or are difficult to perform on the iPad and iTeleport allows me to perform those tasks without having to walk to the other room or bring the MacBook with me when I’m on a trip.

At first glance it doesn’t seem like I do a whole lot on my iPad, but you’re likely underestimating just how much time I spend reading RSS feeds, checking email with Mail, or browsing the web in Safari. The iPad has a large display, it’s light-weight, and easy to use. It’s the first device I pick up in the morning and the last device I put down at night. It’s easy enough for my not-so-computer-literate family members to use but powerful enough for me to do nearly everything on. The iPad was the best purchase I’ve made this year and I can’t wait for the first opportunity to pick one up for my girlfriend.

Right now I’m pretty happy with my setup, though there are a few upgrades I’d like to make. I’ve really been interested in solid state disks as of late and have been thinking about buying one for the aging MacBook once I get its AirPort card replaced. I also plan on getting a second Apple wireless keyboard specifically for the iPad and would like to purchase Twelve South’s Compass stand for the iPad. I’ve read a couple of reviews online and no one’s written anything too terribly negative about the Compass.

My dream setup isn’t too different from what I have now. A second monitor, an iPhone 4, and a new MacBook Pro would be nice. But to be honest, I can’t imagine my dream setup making me any more productive. And if I’m not any more productive then what’s the point?

I’d feel nothing but guilt if I didn’t give credit to Daniel Bogan’s The Setup and Shawn Blanc’s Sweet Mac Setups for inspiring this write-up. I love reading about what other people use to get work done and thought that others might like to hear about what I use.